Kansas has a great opportunity to undo some of the damage caused by Secretary of State Kris Kobach during his two terms in office.
Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Scott Schwab, the incoming secretary of state, have taken the first step. They’ve announced a proposal to end the secretary of state’s ability to prosecute voter fraud cases.
Instead, the responsibility would return to local prosecutors or the attorney general’s office.
“It will be more efficient for our professional prosecutors to handle voter fraud cases ... than for the secretary of state to maintain separate prosecution capacity,” Schmidt said in a statement.
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Well, yes. It was never efficient for Kobach to have the power to prosecute voter fraud. It was a stunt, designed to enhance Kobach’s national profile for political purposes.
Happily, it was a failed experiment. Kobach’s office has filed a mere handful of voter cases, mostly against Kansans who improperly voted in multiple jurisdictions. We’re pretty sure Schmidt’s prosecutors will not be overburdened with work if lawmakers return enforcement powers to the right place.
There is reason to be concerned, though, that the attorney general will continue to waste valuable time and money on another Kobach debacle: the requirement in Kansas law that some residents present “documentary proof of citizenship” papers before registering to vote.
The requirement is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit in federal court. Last June, U.S. District Court Judge Julie Robinson declared the law unconstitutional.
“The law has acted as a deterrent to registration and voting for substantially more eligible Kansans than it has prevented ineligible voters from registering to vote,” Robinson found.
Schmidt has appealed the ruling. He should drop the appeal and end the case.
The ongoing litigation is costly and diverts Kansas from other important legal issues. It will get worse if the state loses the appeal, as seems likely, and then tries to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Pursuing the appeal might make sense if there were an important principle involved. But the law isn’t needed. The proof-of-citizenship requirement wasn’t in place in the last election, yet there was no evidence of voter registration fraud.
Kansas is appealing a losing case to reinstate a law that isn’t necessary. There are better ways for the attorney general to spend his time and the taxpayers’ money.
There are other election reforms Kansas should pursue to make it easier to register and vote and to ensure every ballot is counted fairly. We’re confident that Schwab and members of the Legislature will give those issues the attention they deserve next year.
They don’t need the distraction of Kris Kobach’s failed legacy disrupting their work. Derek Schmidt can provide a fresh start by ending the federal case over the state’s registration requirements.